Michael Lee – Singapore Turf Club
Shane Baertschiger claimed his first Group 1 success as a trainer in his own right after Aramco won the $800,000 Lion City Cup (1200m) on Saturday.
After taking over his father Don in 2012, Baertschiger (he followed Don to Singapore as a 20-year-old in 1993) has filled his own trophy cabinet with a fair amount of silverware (11) but that Group 1 win had somewhat been elusive, even if he was an integral part of the winning team when Don claimed his last Group 1 win – with Capablanca in, you guessed it, the Lion City Cup in 2008.
Eleven years on, the Australian handler is standing under the same spotlight, taking in the well-deserved plaudits for his training feat, but unfortunately, with a tinge of sadness.
Baertschiger flew back home for his aunt’s funeral in Melbourne last Tuesday, and even if that Group 1 hurrah was a red-letter day to his training career, it did put things in perspective about racing’s importance in the overall scheme of things.
No happy event can replace a sad one, especially when it involves the loss of a loved one, but the amiable trainer popularly knowns as “Stretch” was still over the moon with the achievement.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet. It might later, I’ve had a rough week,” he said as he choked back tears.
After he recomposed himself, he didn’t fail to pay tribute to his stable staff headed by indefatigable assistant-trainer Scott Bailey who look after his horses, especially his Lion City Cup duo of Aramco and Bold Thruster.
“The stable has done a great job while I was away for my aunt’s funeral,” said Baertschiger.
“This horse (Aramco) has really come on this season. I made the right decision to not run him in the Rocket Man Sprint and it’s all worked out well.”
Aramco certainly had all his ducks in a row, both before and during the race. Ridden by Vlad Duric, the only jockey to boast a 100% strike rate with him, having won at his two previous associations, the Magic Albert six-year-old unsurprisingly whipped up the rear after breaking from the outermost alley as Zac Kasa (Michael Rodd) dictated terms upfront.
Not quite the leader that was expected given noted frontrunner Bold Thruster (John Powell) had fluffed his lines at the start before quickly recovering to settle in a one-out one-back position in fourth place.
Still, Baertschiger’s other runner Aramco ($33) was shaping up more and more like his best chance (all week the boom was more on Bold Thruster given he is the up-and-coming three-year-old even if he was not so well in at the weights) as he improved off the back of odds-on favourite Lim’s Cruiser to swing out the widest at the top of the straight.
Upfront, a compounding Zac Kasa was coming back, impeding his own stablemate Mister Yeoh (Ben Thompson) in the backwash, while Gingerella’s (Glen Boss) lack of class was showing as the Perth mare failed to make significant headway at the 200m.
Lim’s Cruiser was, however, hot on the heels of the leaders the moment he was exposed for his run after coming off a smothered run for Zac Purton.
He did rock up as the runs came up, and for a second, he looked on the cusp of a third consecutive hurrah in the Lion City Cup, but he had not reckoned with the fresh horse on the scene – Aramco.
Gathering momentum at the rate of knots, Baertschiger’s game sprinter tackled the champion with plenty of cheek, whacking his way past to eventually get the money by a neck from a very gallant Lim’s Cruiser.
A luckless Mister Yeoh did charge home well once he saw daylight to take third place another 2 ¼ lengths away. The winning time was 1min 8.99secs for the 1200m on the Short Course.
“He’s done an amazing job to beat the best sprinter (Lim’s Cruiser) at level weights,” said Baertschiger.
“At the weights, I always thought Aramco would be a better chance than Bold Thruster.”
Two-time Singapore champion jockey Duric was not at his first Group 1 success, and neither was he at his first Lion City Cup, having claimed the country’s premier sprint race with Zac Spirit in 2014.
“We had a nice tempo in the race and I had Zac’s (Purton) back throughout,” said Duric.
“He overraced a bit midrace as I had to manoeuvre him. He can do that at times, but he let down well when we flushed out.
“I think we won because we got a march on Zac. He was full of running as we levelled with him, we had a bit of momentum on him as he went back, and it was a soft win in the end.
“Congrats to Stretch as it’s his first Group 1 win, and it’s great for the owner (Aramco Stable) as well.”
While Bold Thruster’s sixth might have given a bit of a bittersweet taste, the camp was actually prepared to forgive that run from a future perspective.
“He was running against older horses, he was sluggish away, but I think he’ll be better next year,” said Powell.
“He’s a bit touchy in the mouth. When he got on heels behind Bossy’s horse (Gingerella), he started to overrace, or else he would have been okay.
“He actually came back at the 300m, but that early run took something out of him. We need to teach him to settle better and he’ll be a better horse.”
Now a nine-time winner from 21 starts, Aramco, who already had October’s Group 3 Garden City Trophy (1200m) under his belt, has seen his stakes money swell past the $1 million mark after collecting the lion’s share of the Lion City Cup triumph.